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Domoic acid and saxitoxin in seabirds in the United States between 2007 and 2018

April 1, 2021

As harmful algal blooms (HABs) increase in magnitude and duration worldwide, they are becoming an expanding threat to marine wildlife. Over the past decade, blooms of algae that produce the neurotoxins domoic acid (DA) and saxitoxin (STX) and documented concurrent seabird mortality events have increased bicoastally in the United States. We conducted a retrospective analysis of HAB related mortality events in California, Washington, and Rhode Island between 2007 and 2018 involving 12 species of seabirds, to document the levels, ranges, and patterns of DA and STX in eight sample types (kidney, liver, stomach, intestinal, cloacal, cecal contents, bile, blood) collected from birds during these events. Samples (n = 182) from 83 birds were examined for DA (n = 135) or STX (n = 17) or both toxins simultaneously (n = 30), using ELISA or LCMS at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA-NMFS) Wildlife Algal-toxin Research and Response Network (WARRN-West) or the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). DA or STX was detected in seven of the sample types with STX below the minimum detection limit in blood for the three samples tested. DA was found in 70% and STX was found in 23% of all tested samples. The ranges of detectable levels of DA and STX in all samples were 0.65–681,190.00 ng g−1 and 2.00–20.95 ng g−1, respectively. Cloacal contents from a Pacific loon (Gavia pacifica) collected in 2017 from Ventura County, California, had the highest maximum level of DA for all samples and species tested in this study. The highest level of STX for all samples and species was detected in the bile of a northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) collected in 2018 from San Luis Obispo County, California. DA detections were consistently found in gastrointestinal samples, liver, bile, and kidney, whereas STX detections were most frequently seen in liver and bile samples. Co-occurring HAB toxins (DA and STX) were detected in white-winged scoters (Melanitta deglandi) in 2009, a Brandt's cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) in 2015, and a northern fulmar and common murre (Uria aalge) in 2018. This article provides DA and STX tissue concentrations and patterns in avian samples and shows the utility of various sample types for the detection of HAB toxins. Future research to understand the pharmacodynamics of these toxins in avian species and to establish lethal doses in various bird species would be beneficial.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2021
Title Domoic acid and saxitoxin in seabirds in the United States between 2007 and 2018
DOI 10.1016/j.hal.2021.101981
Authors Corinne Gibble, Raphael Kudela, Susan Knowles, Barbara Bodenstein, Kathi Lefebvre
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Harmful Algae
Series Number
Index ID 70220337
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center